“Programming a Festival by and for the Community”

by Maddie Fagundo (BFF 2019; Bates Class of 2020)

After attending the first Bates Film Festival in the Spring of 2018, I was overcome with curiosity about how such a successful festival came to life in just a single semester, with a handful of students, and one professor driving the production. Just a year later, I was one of the board members for the second Bates Film Festival that ran in Fall 2019. For nine weeks up until the film festival, twenty-two student board members met to learn about festival missions, the nuanced process of selecting films, how to raise funds, how to program events, how to connect with and satisfy communities, how to communicate with film industry professionals, and much more. The experience informed my knowledge of film markets, distribution, leadership,event-planning, collaboration, and as a whole was unlike any other experience offered at Bates. Curating the 2019 festival was incredibly rewarding. An aspect of the film festival I admire is its identity as a free student-run film festival that programs an eclectic ensemble of creative and educational films. Most importantly, this unique identity gave us programmers the freedom to have full influence over the festival (for example: not being motivated to screen films that would sell out, rather showing films that could elevate various filmmakers, technologies, narratives, etc.).

“All of our efforts were grounded in providing an inclusive, enlightening, and socially conscious festival that used film as a medium to spread awareness and spark discussion about relevant issues happening in the world.”

Cindy Hing-Yuk Wong, Film Festivals: Culture, People, and Power on the Global Screen

The Bates Film Festival is created by and for the community. Its mission is to advance the College’s mission to engage with the “transformative power of our differences” by programming events that welcome a variety of viewpoints, inspire partnerships with local communities, recognize structural inequalities, and advocate for individuals from diverse backgrounds. In Film Festivals: Culture, People and Power in the Global Screen, Cindy Hing-Yuk Wong writes that smaller-scale festivals, “celebrate social groups or causes . . . highlight the commercial production of different national cinemas. . . complement university-related programs, and offer films for particular audiences” (Wong 13). With these notions in mind, all of our efforts were grounded in providing an inclusive, enlightening, and socially conscious festival that used film as a medium to spread awareness and spark discussion about relevant issues happening in the world. We celebrated local communities through our first-ever VR screening A Shared Space: Lewiston — bringing together college students, locals, and professors to understand their community in an artistic way. More so, we celebrated the Bates community by screening three films by Bates alumni. Additionally, we highlighted the production of different national cinemas in our screening of various films, one of which being the Icelandic film Woman at War. Likewise, as most films explored topics that thoughtfully incorporated themes surrounding identity, power, and politics, the festival aligned with the interests of college-related programs.

A Shared Space: Lewiston won the 2019 Bates Film Festival Audience Award for Documentary Short

Another critical part of programming the festival was ensuring that our audience truly represented the Bates community and the broader L/A community. Wong writes that festival audiences “are important to sustain the culture of cinephilia and to demand that festivals serve as guardians of quality cinema” (Wong 13). We aimed to be inclusive, accommodating, and attentive to ensure the audience could be as involved as they wanted to be. For instance, we endorsed inclusivity in being free and open to the entire public, screening in spaces that were accessible, and screening with subtitles (when we could, but we learned, low-budget independent films cannot always afford captioning). In regard to being accommodating, we tried our best to arrange screening times that were reasonable for the community. For instance, we were conscious of sports teams’ games when picking a time to screen the feature-length documentary Changing the Game. Many of the films had not previously played in the state, so it was great to bring fresh, unexpected films to our community. And, in regard to being attentive, we introduced an audience award, giving viewers the opportunity to share their input about films they saw. These seemingly minor details entailed weeks of in-class discussions and debates, but in the end, we tried our best to cater to our community and audience to ensure success. Overall, when selecting and programing our films we contemplated how it would harmonize with existing courses, student-led clubs, sports teams, and the broader Lewiston/Auburn community.

Carolina González Valencia, BFF Faculty Advisory Board Member 2018 and 2019, is an Assistant Professor of Art and Visual Culture at Bates College

An exemplary example of a Bates Film Festival event that celebrated and informed the community, while also bringing to the table something revelatory and unexpected, was the VR screening of A Shared Space: Lewiston. The event was the perfect site that ignited the discovery of emerging tech, artists, and topics relevant to the community. After conversing with Professor Carolina González Valencia about her experience with virtual reality at CIFF, I was inspired to bring a similar event to campus. I was particularly interested in giving community members a chance to interact with new VR tech in a meaningful way. A couple of other board members and I collaborated on the curation of the event. Together, we found a film that blended emerging and somewhat inaccessible technology, the impactful film, A Shared Space: Lewiston. The immersive experience was topical to the local community and invited all that live in Lewiston to think about the spaces we do and do not occupy. Various audience members from the broader community commented on how this event was their first experience with VR technology and first time viewing such an intimate portrait of their neighbors. From brainstorming to curation to execution, this film was an all-encompassing community-focused event that serves as a perfect example for the events of the Bates Film Festival. I encourage everyone to engage with and support the coming Bates Film Festivals, as they will continue to inspire new thoughts and conversations within local and global communities.